Elliott Sadler Bids Farewell And Reflects On Career Highlights HOMESTEAD, Fla. --- Elliott Sadler will wrap up his NASCAR Busch Series career when he takes the checkered flag at the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex in Miami, Fla. Going...
Elliott Sadler Bids Farewell And Reflects On Career Highlights
HOMESTEAD, Fla. --- Elliott Sadler will wrap up his NASCAR Busch Series career when he takes the checkered flag at the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex in Miami, Fla. Going into the 1998 season, Sadler and the Phillips 66 Performance Racing Team set some high expectations for themselves, and Sadler is pleased with what the Phillips 66 Performance Team accomplished in his second full season in the NASCAR Busch Series.
"We've had a few ups and downs this season," Sadler said. "But we've decided to concentrate on what went right for us this year. We didn't get as many wins, poles or top fives that we wanted to, but we've enjoyed some pretty good success.
"We won races at Bristol and Rockingham, which is no easy task, and we won the pole at Texas," Sadler said. "I think most importantly though, we kept pushing ourselves to keep trying. Last year, if we ran into trouble, we'd say ‘oh well, we'll get them next week.' We didn't do that this year. We made every lap count and worked for every position we got. Although we didn't win the championship this year, that's what it takes to build a championship team."
While the Jiffy Lube Miami 300 will mark only the fourth NASCAR Busch Series race at the Homestead Motorsports Complex, Sadler is a bit nostalgic about the 1.5-mile oval in south Florida. Sadler posted his first career top-five finish at Homestead in 1996, and positioned himself as one of NASCAR's next big superstars.
"I've competed at Homestead twice now and we've always run pretty good there," Sadler said. "It's a pretty flat race track. I got my first top-five finish there and we had a good car there last year but just got into some trouble early. I kind of have mixed feelings about going there this year because it will be my last Busch race with Phillips 66 and Diamond Ridge Motorsports. We want to go there and finish this season with a win. I can't think of a better way to thank them for their support than to do it by celebrating in victory lane."
Sadler will compete for rookie-of-the-year honors next year in the Winston Cup Series. As the Busch Series chapter of his career closes, Sadler reflects on what he considers the highlights of his racing career to date.
Landing a full-time ride in the NASCAR Busch Series with Diamond Ridge Motorsports. Sadler attributes team owner Gary Bechtel and crew chief Sandy Jones with putting him on the NASCAR racing map. Sadler made his first official start with Diamond Ridge Motorsports at Michigan Speedway in 1996. He was named the full-time driver at Charlotte just two months later. "Gary Bechtel gave me an opportunity when a lot of other car owners wouldn't give me a chance. I can't thank him enough for what he has done for me. He really has been like a father to me." Winning the pole for the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in 1997. Usually referred to as NASCAR regular Hermie Sadler's little brother, the youngest Sadler made waves in the NASCAR Busch Series by winning the pole for the season opener in 1997. Unknown to his competitors, Sadler had set a pace for winning three more poles, three outside poles and the 1997 Busch Pole award for his qualifying efforts. "I don't know if anyone was more surprised than me when we won the pole at Daytona."
Securing primary sponsorship from Phillips 66. Sadler had established himself as a legitimate contender in the NASCAR Busch Series when he caught the eye of the Bartlesville, Okla.-based Phillips Petroleum Company. Phillips 66 executives met Sadler at Darlington in 1997 and two short weeks later, they announced their primary sponsorship of the youngster from Virginia. "We had been having some success in 1997 before Phillips 66 came on board, it just didn't feel complete because we didn't represent anybody. After Phillips 66 came on board, we won three races. The people at Phillips 66 have been like family to me and I've made some real good friends with that company. It's been an honor to represent a company like that."
Winning his first career Busch Series race at Nazareth Speedway. Sadler had proven that he could qualify for races in the early part of 1997. It wasn't long before he became a proven winner. Sadler sat on the pole for the First Union 200 in 1997, then followed it up with his first Busch Series win. That was the first of three wins for Sadler in 1997. "I always said my first win would come at a short, flat track and Nazareth is about as flat as we run. Todd Bodine was really coming on strong there at the end, but was going to have to spin me to get around me."
Meeting Miss Food City, Lisa Tollett. For anyone who does not believe in love at first sight, Sadler will prove disbelievers wrong. Sadler met current girlfriend Lisa Tollett, who was Miss Food City in 1997, during driver introductions prior to the 1997 Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I remember seeing her and thinking ‘wow, she's really beautiful.' We kind of made eye contact and I got brave enough to talk to her and then I asked her out. I don't know what she saw in me, but she said yes."
Winning at Bristol in 1998. Although he is labeled a short, flat track veteran, Sadler exercised his racing prowess by winning the Moore's Snacks 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway in March of this year. Sadler considers winning at Bristol a real accomplishment. "Bristol is a tough place to race, but I love that track. We were hoping to get a top-10 finish, but to win at Bristol was just awesome."
Making his first start in a Winston Cup race. When Sadler secured a position in the 43-car field for the 1998 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it was a dream come true for the 23-year old. "Ever since I was a little kid I have always wanted to make it to Winston Cup racing. It's always been my dream. And for my first race to be the Coca-Cola 600 was just unreal to me. It was pretty awesome."
Buying his first house. Sadler became a first-time home owner about midway through the 1998 season. Sadler's home rests on Lake Norman in Mooresville, N.C., and he leaves a light on for his friends and teammates. "You can't come by my house without somebody already being there visiting. Friends, guys on the team, their friends, it doesn't matter who, they will drop by just to say ‘hey,' and I love it. It's cool because I like being able to have a place for my friends to come visit and for my family to stay when they come to Charlotte."
Topping the million dollar mark in career earnings. Sadler is the first to say that topping the million dollar mark was a team effort. When the Phillips 66 Performance Team established goals for the 1998 season, topping the million dollar mark in career earnings was one of them. "We had decided that we should meet that goal by the time we returned to Bristol for the fall race. We beat that date by a couple of races and topped the million dollar mark with a second-place finish at Indianapolis."
Winning at Rockingham in 1998. Sadler captured his second win of the season in the AC Delco 200 at the North Carolina Motor Speedway at the end of October. The win at Rockingham was Sadler's first top-10 finish in the fall event at the 1.017-mile oval. "That was a real emotional win for us because I am leaving next year. I kept telling the guys that I wanted us to get at least one more win before the year was out and we did it. It was awesome."
Landing a Winston Cup ride for 1999. It was a dream realized for Sadler when the successful Wood Brothers tapped Sadler to drive their car during the 1999 Winston Cup season. Sadler will be making a run for rookie-of-the-year in ‘99 with the history and knowledge of the Wood Brothers team backing him. "The Wood Brothers approached me at the beginning of August. It just seemed like a perfect fit. They're from Virginia and I'm from Virginia. They have a lot of knowledge and experience which will help me out a lot next year. I'm just real excited about the whole deal."